Gas underestimated and we’ll get 2.3 C of heating with what we’ve emitted thus far, but we can control the speed

More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study in Nature Climate Change Finds, by Olivia Rosane Jan. 06, 2021

More Than Two Degrees of Climate Warming Is Already Locked In, New Study Finds

Researchers estimate that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in. DuKai photographer / Getty Images

Existing greenhouse gases will eventually push the climate into more than two degrees of warming, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday.

That number puts the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels out of reach, says Andrew Dessler, study coauthor and Texas A&M University climate scientist. Still, he warned against “climate doomers,” The Associated Press reported.

“While I would not categorize this as good news, it is not game over for the climate,” Dessler said in a video explaining the paper.https://www.youtube.com/embed/LV9aCiyui18?rel=0

So what exactly does the study say?

Dessler worked with colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) and Nanjing University in China to analyze what is called “committed warming,” or the amount of warming that would occur if atmospheric greenhouse gases were paused at their current concentrations.

Previous estimates had put committed warming at around 1.4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Dessler said in the video. But those estimates were based on faulty assumptions about Earth’s climate system, the paper authors argued.

“Typically, committed warming is estimated assuming that changes in the future will pretty much follow changes in the past,” Mark Zelinka, coauthor and LLNL atmospheric scientist, said in a press release. “But we now know that this is a bad assumption.”

Specifically, the researchers pointed to the regions of the planet that have not yet warmed, such as the Southern Ocean. The temperatures of these regions cause clouds to form that reflect sunlight and further cool the planet. But eventually those regions will warm too, dispersing the clouds and further raising temperatures.

“After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates,” lead author Chen Zhou of Nanjing University said in the press release.

The researchers estimated that a likely total of 2.3 degrees Celsius of warming is now locked in, about a full degree above the previous estimate.

The good news is that this warming could take centuries to occur, provided the world acts now to reduce emissions.

“If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we currently are, then we will blow through the 1.5 and two degree Celsius limits possibly within a few decades,” Dessler said in the video. “This means that our work is consistent with the conclusion that we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible.”

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who was not involved with the research, called the study fascinating on Twitter.

“I don’t think this paper fundamentally changes our understanding of committed warming, and pattern effects are still an area of active research. But it should make us a bit cautious about being too confident in predictions of zero warming after emissions reach net-zero,” he concluded.

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A coalition of Colorado groups are supporting 350 CO and a group letter to Governor Polis, the Colorado Energy Office, the Air Pollution Control Division, and the Air Quality Control Commission regarding the massive underestimation of emissions from the oil and gas sector and lack of plans to reduce those emissions in the Nov. draft of the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Roadmap and the state Inventory. 

The letter outlines modifications that must be made to the Draft GHG Roadmap in order for it to truly lead to meeting GHG emissions goals, resulting from a 350CO report “Avoiding a Roadmap to Climate Catastrophe,” analysis from which shows that the methane levels that are in large part used as the cornerstone for lowering Oil and Gas emissions in the current draft GHG Roadmap are grossly underestimated, and will lead to a meaningless, paper-only achievement of Roadmap goals.

When properly accounted using these more scientifically justified figures, the Roadmap’s estimate of just 17.3% of state GHG emissions actually comes to a shocking 70% of overall GHG emissions. This utilizes shale fracking methane leakage rates recorded and reviewed in the scientific literature and the internationally approved global warming potential for methane from the past decade, not earlier ones.

Perhaps worst, the analysis reveals that the state Roadmap’s HB1261 plan actually allows for an 86% increase in oil production and a 41% increase in gas production by 2030, which results in a 61% increase in GHG emissions (at current estimated leakage rates).

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Dear Governor Jared Polis, Colorado Energy Office, Air Pollution Control Division and Air Quality Control Commission,

The undersigned climate leaders and organizations appreciate the state’s initial efforts toward reducing Colorado’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by creating the draft Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap and updating our state’s GHG inventory. These are essential first steps toward meeting the legal mandate of HB 19-1261 and curbing emissions contributing to the climate emergency and Colorado’s worsening air quality problem. However, we are extremely concerned that the draft Roadmap lacks ambition and is short on details or mechanisms by which the HB 19-1261 GHG emission reduction goals will be reached. 

Additionally, we are writing today to express grave concerns that the state is greatly underestimating the actual GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector and overestimating future reductions in GHG emissions from this sector that can be achieved. This results in seriously flawed Roadmap projections. The state is assuming Colorado can greatly increase oil and gas production while meeting our GHG emission reduction goals. Faulty assumptions result in faulty outcomes. 

As outlined in 350 Colorado’s recent report “Avoiding a Roadmap to Climate Catastrophe”, when best available science regarding shale methane leakage and the most appropriate global warming potential for methane is applied, and the emissions resulting from our state’s exports of oil and gas are factored in, the oil and gas sector is already responsible for shocking 70% of Colorado’s GHG emissions.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that society must transition off all fossil fuels, largely over the next decade, in order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5℃. Instead, the state Roadmap’s HB1261 plan actually allows for an 86% increase in oil production and a 41% increase in gas production by 2030, which results in a 61% increase in GHG emissions (at current estimated leakage rates). 

If Colorado truly wants to lead in global efforts to solve the climate crisis, our state must begin with an honest and accurate accounting of Colorado’s actual GHG emissions resulting from the oil and gas sector and use that to guide policy decisions for attainment of our state’s GHG emission reduction goals. Our state must set far more robust and detailed plans to phase out all fossil fuel production, in addition to demand reduction efforts, in order to achieve our climate goals.

We call for the following additions and modifications to the state’s draft Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Roadmap and the GHG Inventory:

First, we urge state officials to start with the most accurate, science-based assumptions to create an accurate 2019 baseline of emissions from Colorado’s oil and gas sector. 

  1. Instead of using a 2019 upstream catchall methane leakage rate of 2.9% in the Roadmap, which is based upon underestimated bottom-up industry reporting, Cornell University researcher Dr. Robert Howarth recommends use of a catchall leakage rate of 4.1%. This average is from actual observed emissions from shale basins and is likely far more accurate. Moving forward, the GHG inventory must use best available technologies for emissions monitoring, including top down atmospheric measurements of oil and gas basins and continuous emissions monitoring at all polluting sites conducted by an independent third party, rather than industry self-reporting.  It is absolutely critical that meaningful consequences for polluters who violate proposed rules are incorporated into the Roadmap. 
  1. Use the far more appropriate 20-year GWP factor of 86 for methane emissions (rather than the 100-year GWP that minimizes the powerful heat-trapping impact of methane leaks over the next critical decades). The Roadmap should adopt a dual-term greenhouse gas accounting standard as is being considered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC). As a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas, methane’s emission reduction goals must be based on its 20-year global warming potential. The 100-year GWP is more suitable for CO2 and other long-lived GHGs.
  1. Include the emissions from oil and gas exports produced in Colorado. We must take responsibility for the full life-cycle emissions resulting from these fossil fuels, regardless of where they’re burned.

Next, we urge the Polis administration to recognize the need for a rapid phase out and just transition beyond oil and gas development in Colorado. 

  1. Do not underestimate future oil and gas sector emissions by overestimating the potential for leak reductions (to .9% in the current Roadmap). Instead, employ caution by using Howarth’s 4.1% catchall leakage rate with future production scenarios. Realize that while technology may allow for improved leak reduction, elsewhere the 80,000+ existing wells in Colorado will be deteriorating. As well casings break down, greater emissions will be inevitable and must be accounted for. 
  1. Colorado must align our actions with the recommendations of the world’s climate scientists at the IPCC, who call for a rapid transition off all fossil fuels, largely within the next decade, in order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. The Roadmap’s HB1261 plan actually allows for an 86% increase in oil production and a 41% increase in gas production by 2030, which results in a 61% increase in GHG emissions (at current estimated leakage rates). Rather than planning to increase oil and gas production, which runs contradictory to our state’s climate goals, the Roadmap must set clear, enforceable limits and reductions in GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector. We urge policymakers to support a 10% per year reduction in emissions for a full phase out of oil and gas production in Colorado by 2030. This 10% phase out must include reductions in permitting of new oil and gas development, as well as a 10% phase out of existing wells. We recommend beginning the existing well phase out by permanently shutting in the most egregious well sites that would not comply with the COGCC’s updated rules and regulations, e.g. those that are within 2000’ of a school or homes. This would have additional health, justice and equity benefits for fenceline communities suffering from toxic emissions and devalued properties.
  1. Finally, the Roadmap is obligated to address justice and equity issues of the most impacted communities and a just transition to support energy workers and frontline communities in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. We are encouraged to see a commitment to a just transition away from coal toward a renewable energy future written into the Roadmap to support workers and frontline communities. This just transition must also be extended to impacted communities and workers most affected by the transition away from oil and gas.

Colorado has the opportunity to lead the nation in climate action, thanks to the leaders who passed and signed HB 19-1261. The proposed Roadmap plan does not provide a pathway to meet our climate goals or the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5℃. In order to meet those goals and do our part to keep global temperature rise below 1.5℃, we must first do an honest accounting of our state’s actual GHG emissions (as the state of NY has done), using best available science for shale leakage and methane GWP, and including the full life cycle of all fossil fuels produced in our state. Then, we must set a rapid emissions reduction trajectory that builds in a just transition beyond fossil fuels and prioritizes justice and equity for the most impacted communities. 

The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Roadmap is an opportunity for our state to address the GHG emission reductions required by HB-19-1261, to put Colorado back on track to meeting critical climate goals, and to improve the F-grade Front Range air quality.  We implore you to consider best science, the legal mandates of HB 19-1261, and the health and livelihoods of Coloradans 一 those who are currently harmed and those who will harmed from oil and gas development and a rapidly changing climate 一 as you incorporate the above revisions into the final Roadmap goals, policies, and regulations.

Coloradans are already suffering from climate impacts – more intense and frequent wildfires, drought, floods, pine beetle killed forests, vector-borne diseases and impacts on our food production, winter sports, tourism and more. Decision makers must treat this effort to reduce actual GHG emissions with the urgency that the climate emergency demands. In the words of youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Sincerely,

Call to Action Colorado

Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate

Jeremy Nichols: WEG:

350CO again emphasizes an important truth, which is that the climate impacts of fossil fuel production in Colorado have an outsized climate impact due to the downstream, end use emissions associated with processing, refining, combustion, etc.  This means that taking steps to limit and ultimately wind down oil and gas activity in the state has a heightened climate benefit.  Numerous reports have emphasized the importance of supply-side climate action as a powerful complement to demand-side action (see e.g. Lazarus, M., Erickson, P., and Tempest, K., “Supply-side climate policy: the road less taken,” Stockholm Environmental Institute, Working Paper 2015-13 (Oct. 2015), https://mediamanager.sei.org/documents/Publications/Climate/SEI-WP-2015-13-Supply-side-climate-policy.pdf; Lazarus, M., van Asselt, H., “Fossil fuel supply and climate policy: exploring the road less taken,” Climatic Change, 150:1-3 (2018), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-018-2266-3; and Exhibit 3, Asheim, G.B., Faehn, T., Nyborg, K., Greaker, M., Hagem, C., Harstad, B., Hoel, M.O., Lund, D., Rosendahl, K.E., “The case for a supply-side climate treaty,” Science, Vol. 365, Issue 6451 (July 2019), https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6451/325).

It’s important to account for this full climate footprint of the oil and gas industry.  And it’s important to acknowledge the higher intensity climate impact that fossil fuel production has.  To your point Kevin about Wyoming, absolutely Wyoming should be held accountable for the outsized climate footprint of its coal industry.  We’ve actually had a years-long campaign to hold the federal government accountable to the full climate impacts of coal mining in the Powder River Basin.  It’s preposterous that we would give the coal industry a free pass to keep mining and marketing coal even as we recognize a full transition from fossil fuels is long overdue.  

This doesn’t mean Colorado or other states don’t take responsibility, it just means we achieve more comprehensive climate action.  We advocate to keep fossil fuels in the ground as well as advocate for 100% renewable energy, electrification of transportation, etc.

The climate footprint of fossil fuel production shouldn’t be conflated with the inventories used to measure progress in reducing emissions within Colorado, but it’s an important data point that should guide policy development. If climate regulation in-state can promote a reduction in fossil fuel production infrastructure, that’s a bigger win than just, say, regulating methane.  Understanding the full scope of impacts is critical to developing and implementing these kinds of policies.

Really unfortunate that this dissonance has arisen in this forum, I think we all agree with the concept that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate and that’s the concept advanced by 350CO’s report.  Given the huge projected increases in oil and gas production over the next decade, we can’t afford to let the state settle only on methane regulation as the solution, we have to be pushing for a managed decline and ultimate phase out of the oil and gas industry.  350CO’s report is another important call to action in this regard.

Note:

are not suggesting that CO shift from a consumption-based inventory approach to a production-based inventory approach, so you can dismiss your concerns about not counting the coal, oil and gas we burn from other states. We agree that we should continue to count all fossil fuels burned here and report to the EPA, as we have always done. And we are not suggesting that we count fossil fuels produced in Colorado that we export in the nationwide reports to the EPA either (as that could result in double counting for other states that count those emissions, although not all do). 

Our point in the report is the exact same point the 3 of us and others made in CCLC’s intervention in formal rulemaking at the AQCC last April when our coalition called for the state to count the emissions from fossil fuels we produce and export. (I’ll paste that portion of our prehearing statement below for anyone who hasn’t seen it.) 

What we’ve done in the report around exports is calculate the emissions associated with those exports (as CCLC asked the state to do) – we found the data for Colorado’s oil and gas production and the % of production that we export, and then translated that exported oil and gas into emissions. By doing those calculations, we are now aware of the MMT CO2e of emissions associated with our exports, so our state can take responsibility and account for internally (a ‘side tally’ as you put it, Kevin, would work just fine) for the emissions of fossil fuels produced here in CO, even if they are burned elsewhere. I believe this is pretty much exactly what we all asked for last April. As we all know, GHGs are global, and if we want to truly lead efforts to address the climate crisis, then we can’t just ignore those fossil fuels produced here and exported. Calculating and including emissions from exported fossil fuels as a part of our state’s inventory internally is critical for driving policy decisions around continued fossil fuel development. Otherwise, as is the current case in the roadmap, our state assumes we can just continue increasing oil production by 86% and gas by 41% by 2030 and forget about the vast majority of those emissions. (It would be like Saudi Arabia or Alberta putting up some solar/wind, and ignoring their oil/tar sands oil exports and pretending they’re doing their part to solve the climate crisis.) That’s totally irresponsible and unacceptable. 

I would be happy to set up a zoom call to go over our calculations, citations, etc. and answer any questions to eliminate any misunderstandings.  I have gone over this report with Dr. Robert Howarth, the Cornell University expert on oil and gas emissions who testified on all of this for CCLC before the AQCC last April, and he agrees with our assumptions, recommendations, etc. We drew these recommendations from Dr. Howarth’s work primarily, which resulted in the state of NY implementing the recommendations we make (using the 20-year GWP for methane, the observed 4.1% leakage for upstream and downstream methane leakage rates, and counting emissions outside the state that the state is responsible for). Hopefully Colorado will follow NY’s lead (assuming CO wants to actually reduce our ghg emissions and not just look good on paper).

Here is a link to CCLC’s prehearing statement we submitted together to the AQCC last April, and below I’ve pasted the part of it where we called for the state to count emissions from exports last spring:

“SCIENTIFIC CONTEXT

D. Colorado’s GHG Inventory Must Include Exported Fossil Fuels 

Our state inventory must also account for the GHG emissions of oil, gas and coal exports. 

We must take responsibility for fossil fuel extraction and production activities within our state’s 

borders that exacerbate the global climate crisis, regardless of who ultimately burns the fuel. 

Many states do not prioritize keeping track or minimizing GHG emissions, so we cannot shirk 

responsibility for developing fossil fuels in our state that are then exported and burned 

elsewhere. Colorado should begin to track all oil, gas and coal developed here and exported 

elsewhere and report the estimated GHG emissions associated with those fuels so that we can 

ascertain our overall impact on the climate crisis. This report should be part of the current 

inventory, but in a separate category from other GHG emissions released in our state. 

CONCLUSIONS

D. Track Exported Fossil Fuels Extracted in Colorado and Report the Associated GHG emissions 

Colorado law clearly states in C.R.S. §25-7-102 (2) (a) and (b) why climate change is 

important and that it is adversely affecting “Colorado’s economy, air quality, public health, 

ecosystems, natural resources, and quality of life.” C.R.S. §25-7-102 (2) (c) states that “We must 

work together to reduce statewide greenhouse gas pollution in order to limit the increase in the 

global average temperature to one and one-half degrees Celsius, which scientists agree would 

14 See ] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5°C in the context of sustainable development.” https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/chapter-2/, Executive Summary 

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provide a more stable and hospitable climate for current and future generations and mitigate the 

risk of catastrophic climate impacts in Colorado” C.R.S. § 25-7-102 (2) (d), C.R.S. § 25-7-102 

(2) (d), and C.R.S. 25-7-102 (2) (e) further state the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas 

pollution for our health, environment and economy 

Fundamental to the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) pollution is an accurate 

inventory of GHG emissions as called for in C.R.S. 25-7-102 (1). In C.R.S. § 25-7-105(1), the 

Air Quality Control Commission (“AQCC”) is directed to promulgate rules that are consistent 

with the legislative declaration in C.R.S. §25-7-102, cited above. 

Colorado law also specifically speaks in CRS §25-7-140 (2) (a) (I) of the need to “tailor new 

reporting requirements to fill any gaps in data, as it determines is appropriate, to allow for 

maintaining and updating state inventories that are sufficiently comprehensive and robust.” 

(Emphasis added.) Also CRS §25-7-140 (2) (a) (II) calls on the AQCC to ensure that the inventory is updated and that abatement is “rigorously tracked.” 

Therefore, we call for the AQCC to begin tracking all oil, gas and coal developed within our state’s borders and exported elsewhere and report the estimated GHG emissions associated with those fuels so that we can ascertain our overall impact on the climate crisis and take action accordingly. This report should be part of the current inventory, but in a separate category from other GHG emissions released in our state.”

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FWW: Dems’ Dirty Energy Bill is a Climate Failure

Some lawmakers cheered the December spending bill as a big climate win. It was not. 

We all need safe food and clean water.

DonateDems’ Dirty Energy Bill is a Climate Failure By Jim Walsh01.8.21

In a few weeks, a new president and a new Congress should bring a much-needed shift in our fight against climate chaos. But before Joe Biden was even inaugurated, Congress passed a massive spending bill that will funnel billions of dollars into fossil fuel pet projects and dirty energy development. 

With the approval and celebration of Democratic leaders like New York Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congress pushed through a raft of provisions that benefit dirty energy. What’s worse, many lawmakers portrayed this package as good news for climate and clean energy.  

The omnibus spending bill was hundreds of pages long and negotiated behind closed doors, with members of Congress and the public barely getting a day to review the legislation before it passed.

Carbon Capture Funding = Fossil Fuel Giveaway

The legislation lays out a spending roadmap that is highly favorable to the fossil fuel industry. Over $6 billion will be spent on further development of carbon capture utilization and sequestration (CCUS). Carbon capture is expensive, ineffective technology that just so happens to be popular with politicians and failing fossil fuel companies. 

Part of the systemic build out of CCS infrastructure is federal funding for carbon capture projects planned for at least five coal plants, along with money to study how to safely store and transport captured CO2. Right now that is something the industry is unable to do, even if they could effectively capture the CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, which they cannot.

The problem is that we don’t need to keep throwing money at carbon capture in the hopes that one day it might work. Decades of experience tell us that it is nothing more than a dirty energy delaying tactic, a ploy to look like the industry is cleaning up its act even though it has been a colossal failure. The only functioning examples of ‘successful’ carbon capture take captured CO2 and use it to extract more oil from existing wells. That is not climate progress — but the fossil fuel industry will gladly keep playing this delaying tactic, and politicians will keep claiming that carbon capture is good news for the climate fight.

Other Winners: Nukes, Petrochemicals and Big Ag

The legislation also extends — and slightly tweaks — an Energy Department loan guarantee program intended to support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The new language would also apply to projects that seek to “utilize” CO2, which could be a sneaky way to support fossil fuels. For the past few years, there has been a push to build a massive petrochemical project in the Ohio River Valley; the Appalachian petrochemical storage hub would be a central location for fracked gas liquids used as feedstock for plastics manufacturing. These storage proposals have been slow to develop due to financing troubles, so this change could lead the Biden administration to approve loans for these petrochemical projects.

Not to be outdone, Big Ag won a provision that prevents the Environment Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from factory farms, or even requiring these operations to report their emissions. This industry loophole not only helps support the development of factory farms, but allows the industry to push manure digesters as so-called net zero emissions technologies that produce what is falsely labeled ‘renewable natural gas.’ Utility giants and corporate agriculture are working together to push the dangerous myth that factory farm manure is a clean energy breakthrough, and that these mega-polluters can be considered ‘net zero.’  

The nuclear industry is also getting a big boost, with billions of dollars to encourage the commercial expansion of nuclear reactors. Even without factoring in the unavoidable problems with nuclear energy safety and long term waste storage, existing nuclear energy sources are so expensive that states are handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to keep existing plants online. There is also the inconvenient fact that nuclear power plants can take up to a decade to build — an awful bet when we need to build energy sources that can quickly replace fossil fuels. 

Another big winner is hydrogen. While it might be helpful in dealing with intermittent energy production from solar and wind, and we can create hydrogen sustainably with renewables, the major source of hydrogen production today is methane, the highly potent greenhouse gas that is the main component of fracked gas. This legislation will support more infrastructure for the production of methane-derived hydrogen, as well as demonstration projects to create hydrogen using nuclear energy. This means more fracking, more pipelines, and more nuclear energy — and all the public health and environmental impacts that come along with them.

While this seems bleak, the reality is we have a real opportunity to turn things around in 2021. Joe Biden campaigned on a climate agenda that included an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and we need to hold him to that commitment. While Congress is responsible for passing an appropriations bill that lays out spending priorities, President Biden can demand that Congress send him an appropriations bill that ends these subsidies.